On April 8, thousands of Cook County residents will turn their eyes to the skies to check out the solar eclipse. But it’s important to protect those eyes, said Cook County Health ophthalmologist Dr. Shweta Chaudhary. 

“While people are naturally excited to view the eclipse, it’s important that people do it safely while following the guidance from professionals,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “Damaging your vision is not worth viewing the eclipse unsafely.”   

Cook County and the Chicago area will experience a partial solar eclipse, which means there is no period of totality when the moon completely blocking the sun. During a partial solar eclipse, it is never safe to directly look at the eclipse without proper eye protection. 

This includes looking through an unfiltered camera, telescope, or cell phone camera.  

Regular sunglasses do not offer the needed level of protection. According to NASA, the only safe way to watch a partial eclipse is by using eclipse glasses or safe solar viewers. Tips for ensuring you have safe viewers can be found here

Dr. Chaudhary warns, “Looking at a partial eclipse without proper protection can be dangerous, because sun rays can create sunburn onto the retina even with minimal exposure, leading to irreparable vision deficit.” 

This is because, traditionally when we look at the sun, it’s bright and our pupils constrict, protecting our eyes from excess exposure to harmful sun rays. During an eclipse, the brightness isn’t as intense and our instinct to look away is diminished.

Still, the portions that are visible can have the same brightness, increasing the potential for damage to the retina, Dr. Chaudhary explains, “Just like how the sunlight focused through a magnifying lens can cause heating and burning of a leaf or piece of paper, viewing the eclipse with naked eyes for even a small period of time has similar effects on retinal tissue of the eye, which is 1,000 times more delicate and sensitive to solar damage.” 

Recovery from solar damage is unpredictable and can occur over the course of 3-6 months after the inciting event, although visual recovery may be incomplete and a patient may suffer from permanent visual acuity deficits, Dr. Chaudhary said.

“No matter how tempting it may be, even a peek without proper protection isn’t worth the risk.” 

Chicago and Cook County will be holding a variety of events and locations across the area to safely watch the eclipse. To check out events being hosted by the Cook County Forest Preserve, visit their website.